Madera Canyon

Location: southeast of Green Valley, Arizona
Date: February 20, 2011

At the entrance to Madera Canyon

Madera Canyon is on the northwest side of the Santa Rita Mountains in Coronado National Forest south of Tucson, Arizona.  Rising above the canyon are Mount Wrightson at 9,453 feet high and Mount Hopkins, which has the Smithsonian's Wipple Observatory on its summit.  The mountains in this area are known as sky islands because they support unique biomes that are stepping stones between the Rocky Mountains in the United States and the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico.

Hepatic tanager

While Madera Canyon is a destination for various forms of recreation, their main draw is its unique assemblage of birds, including many species unique to only Mexico and this corner of Arizona.  But perhaps the highest profile species found in southeastern Arizona (not necessarily Madera Canyon) are the jaguar and ocelot, which garner rare sightings.

Mexican jay

Being February, I did not expect to see a plethora of bird life, so I planned to do some hiking and occasional bird watching.  However, when I arrived it was unusually cold and windy, making it difficult to bird watch and unpleasant to hike.  So, I drove the length of the road through the canyon and stopped at four locations.

Canyon towhee

The first place I stopped was at the Whitehouse Picnic Area where I had lunch.  But after I finished eating I spotted a Mexican jay and hepatic tanager, both species are ones I had never before seen.

From there I went to the the visitor center where there were several feeders set up with many pine siskins, lesser goldfinches, house finches, dark-eyed juncos, several sparrows, and a few more Mexican jays.  Next I went to the Mount Wrightson picnic area at the upper end of the canyon.  I went on a short hike and managed to spot a few wrens, a hermit thrush, northern flicker, white-breasted nuthatch, and an acorn woodpecker.

White-breasted nuthatch

Lastly I went to the Proctor Parking Area at the warmer lower end of the canyon and walked around a while but only spotted a canyon towhee and a ruby-crowned kinglet.  I was a little disappointed by my experience here, but during the summer this area has a much greater variety of birds.  For more info on birding in this region see my upcoming posts on Patagonia Lake State Park and Saguaro National Park and see the video below.

Santa Rita Mountains from the Mount Wrightson Picnic Area

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